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Reviews for November 4th, 2022

Documentary Round-Up

      Not every doc has to tackle a very dark, provocative or heavy subject matter. Every now and then it's okay to watch an documentary that's simply uplifting, inspiring and exuberant. Calendar Girls accomplishes that with flying colors, although it has a few ephemeral moments that break the uplift with darker topics like death and illness. It centers on the Calendar Girls, a group of women over the age 60 who travel around Florida to put on a dance show together at a variety of venues like senior centers. Co-directors Maria Loohufvud and Love Martinsen follow them as they rehearse for their shows and perform, but the true pleasure and heart of the doc is watching the women bond with each other. Their friendship, compassion and love for one another as well as for life feels palpable. To be fair, though, it would've been more illuminating and emotionally engrossing to get to know some of the women a little more to learn about their backstories. There are some glimpses of their life beyond the dance group, but not enough to elevate the documentary to something more heartfelt, profound and insightful. That said, Calendar Girl nonetheless manages to remain entertaining without overstaying its welcome at a running time of 1 hour and 34 minutes. It opens at Cinema Village via Pink Dolphin, and would make for a great double feature with Follow Your Feet.

      Meet Me in the Bathroom is a mildly engaging, underwhelming reader's digest version of the rock music scene in New York during the early 2000s. Co-directors Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern cover a lot of ground jumping from one band to another, i.e. The Moldy Peaches, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Strokes, and LCD, among others, which were icons of that music era. As an introduction to the 2000's rock music scene for newbies, this doc doesn't disappoint. However, each band could've been explored in a separate documentary with much more insight. Salad Days is a better example of a music doc that's equally informative and entertaining as well as transcendent above your average doc. That, unfortunately, cannot be said about Meet Me in the Bathroom which says nothing new or surprising nor does it make for essential viewing. You might be better off discovering more just by listening to the music from each of the bands instead and by reading the book Meet Me in the Bathroom by Lizzy Goodman which this doc is inspired by. If it were a truly great doc, it would still be enjoyable for audiences who aren't huge fans of rock music, but that's not the case here. At a running time of 1 hour and 47 minutes, Meet Me in the Bathroom opens at IFC Center via Utopia.

      Salvatore: Shoemaker of Dreams is a mostly hagiographic, pedestrian and conventional documentary biopic about Salvatore Ferragamo, an Italian shoemaker who's far from pedestrian or conventional. Director Luca Guadagnino follows a linear structure to inform the audience about Ferragamo's work and life. During his childhood, he first developed his passion for shoemaking. Surprisingly, in college, he studied anatomy. Why? To understand the anatomy of the foot to design better shoes and understand how the foot interacts with the shoe. He asked his professor many questions and learned a lot. His education paid off and he was able to design shoes that not only are stylish but comfortable, too. There's no denying that he became a great success while also making shoes for the stars of Hollywood like Bette Davis, Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe. Later on, he suffered financial problems and closed down his shoe factory before building a new one and starting afresh. Luca Guadagnino includes archival footage and photographs along with interviews with Farragamo's surviving family, i.e. his wife, Wanda, who took over the business when he died. Martin Scorcese chimes in with some insights every now and then. Guadagnino clearly admires Salvatore Ferragamo and loves fashion. If you're into fashion, you'll appreciate this doc a lot more. It's less interesting for everyone else, though, and will make you wonder, "When is the exam?" while leaving you with too many answered questions like, "What went on in Salvatore Ferragamo's company after he died?" At an overlong running time of nearly 2 hours, Salvatore: Shoemaker of Dreams opens at Angelika Film Center and AMC Loews Lincoln Square via Sony Pictures Classics.

Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths

Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu


Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Netflix.
Opens at Paris Theatre and Village East by Angelika. Streams on Netflix on December 16th, 2022.

The Box

Directed by Lorenzo Vigas

     Hatzin (Hatzín Navarrete), a teenager living in Mexico City, travels by train to a small town to collect the remains of his father who died. He meets a man, Mario (Hernán Mendoza), who looks like his father and thinks that it might be him. He believes that his father might not be dead after all and changed his identity.

      The screenplay by writer/director Lorenzo Vigas and co-writer Paula Markovitch begins after the death of Hatzin's father as Hatzin rides a train on his way to pick up his father's remains which are inside a box. The audience never gets to meet Haztin's father or why he's not living with Hatzin anymore, but they gradually learn a little bit of information, i.e. that he died in a mining accident and that he and Hatzin have been estranged for many years. Without flashbacks, voice-over narration or lengthy scenes of exposition, the filmmakers throw the audience right in the middle of Hatzin's journey. You don't even get to meet his grandmother who's waiting for him in Mexico City. By keeping the story lean and focused just on Hatzin's experiences arriving at the town and his journey back, it avoids being overstuffed with padding and becoming a meandering, uneven mess. There's little to no comic relief here. The Box remains grounded in realism and becomes more complex as the minimal plot unfolds. Mario becomes like a surrogate father to Hatzin who's convinced that he's his father. Is that how Hatzin grieves his father? Perhaps. The audience hasn't met Hatzin before his journey, so it's hard to grasp what he's like back in Mexico City when he's not dealing with a tragedy. Does he have any friends? That's also unclear. Fortunately, there's nothing contrived or cheesy in the friendship between him and Mario. There are no huge epiphanies or long speeches. Mario agrees to find work for Hatzin who stays temporarily in the town. That's when the film becomes a stark glimpse of the working class in Mexico where workers are treated unfairly. In one of the film's more moving scenes, Hatzin stands up to Mario for workers who he treated unfairly. It's a brief scene that could've easily become over-the-top and led to something far darker, but it doesn't. In a way, Hatzin "comes of age" through his journey; despite the title, it's not really about the box that Hatzin needs to pick up, but about his emotional journey as a young boy. Perhaps one day he'll look back on his experiences and learn from them in retrospect.  

      The performances by Hatzín Navarrete and Hernán Mendoza are all natural and understated with no over-acting or under-acting. They help to further ground the film in realism. There are some quiet moments, too, which speak louder than words. The pace moves slowly which takes time to get used to, but at least it's not too slow. If it were 2 hours or more, it would've overstayed its welcome. At an ideal running time of 1 hour and 30 minutes, The Box is an engrossing, lean and tender emotional journey. 

Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Mubi.
Opens at Cinema Village.

I'm Totally Fine

Directed by Brandon Dermer

      Vanessa (Jillian Bell) goes on a road trip to grieve the death of her best friend, Jennifer (Natalie Morales), who's also her business partner. She stays at a house the two of them rented for a party. The next morning, Jennifer shows up in the house out-of-the-blue and claims to be an alien that has taken the form of Jennifer.

      The screenplay by Alisha Ketry begins in the aftermath of Jennifer's death and Vanessa cries in the car she pulls over on the side of the road. There's no first act that would have established what the relationship between Vanessa and Jennifer was like, how they met, and what makes their friendship so strong. By eschewing a first act, Ketry makes it harder for the audience to be on the same page as Vanessa and to connect with her on an emotional level from the very beginning. Basically, Vanessa grieves someone whom the audience never actually meets except for the alien who looks like Jennifer and happens to have her memories. Unfortunately, I'm Totally Fine doesn't quite work as a sci-fi movie nor as a comedy nor as a drama about grief. Ketry does grasp the concept that comedy is often rooted in tragedy, but the dialogue isn't funny enough nor is the banter between Vaness and Jennifer, so the comedic beats don't land. A film like this needs either sparkling, witty dialogue, more imaginative, clever "world-building" or emotional depth to captivate the audience on some level. Those elements are sorely lacking here, especially because of how the screenplay is in too much of a hurry to get to the meat of the story without shedding enough light on Vanessa and Jennifer's friendship or humanizing Vaness for that matter. Ketry keeps exposition to a minimum; you don't even learn about the alien's home planet. Even if you view the film as a parable about grief, it says very little that's profound or illuminating about that universal, relative topic. Perhaps if it took more risks and added some campiness to its B-movie plot, it would've at least been a guilty pleasure.

      Despite the comedic talents of Jillian Bell and Natalie Morales, none of them gives a performance that rises above the lazy, dull and shallow screenplay. The performance by Morales is bland while Bell's performance fails to find an inner life for the character, so the scenes with her that are meant to be poignant fall flat, particularly in the third act. Julian Bell is much better in the more funny and heartfelt Brittany Runs a Marathon which she should've been nominated for. The best aspects of the film are the minimal use of CGI/special effects and the short running time that's under 90 minutes. There's nothing exceptional about the cinematography nor the set design. At a running time of 1 hour and 23 minutes, I'm Totally Fine is yet another underwhelming, unfunny sci-fi dramedy that's low on style, substance, laughs and wit.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Decal.
Opens at Village East by Angelika.

Next Exit

Directed by Mali Elfman

      In a world where a scientist, Dr. Stevensen (Karen Gillan), has proven that life after death exists, Life Beyond, a clinic, studies dead people's transition into the afterlife. Two strangers, Rose (Katie Parker) and Teddy (Rahul Kohli), agree to participate in the study. They embark on a road trip together to clinic.

      Writer/director Mali Elfman deserves to be commended for an interesting premise with complex themes that include suicide. However, the screenplay bites off more than it could chew. Part road trip movie, part buddy comedy, part existensional drama, part sci-fi, part psychological horror, it tries to amalgamate many different genres in one which leads to uneven results and tonal whiplash. The road trip and buddy comedy scenes work, initially, because Rose and Teddy make for an amusing odd couple, but their bickering gets tiresome eventually. Elfman also deserves to be commended for grasping the fact that comic relief is an effective way of lessoning the heaviness of heavy topics like suicide. Unfortunately, the comedic attempts don't always generate laughs. There's not enough wit and very little exposition when it comes to the sci-fi elements. The opening scene has a little exposition, but little is known about Dr. Stevensen. She seems like she's just there as a plot device before she re-emerges when the plot needs her again later on. The ending can be seen from a mile away which would be forgivable if the journey there were worth it. Rose and Teddy do go through epiphanies along the way as they look back at their life, but there's nothing profound about them, and the film does a poor job of exploring them beneath the surface. What ensues is an emotionally hollow and increasingly dull experience that leaves the audience cold and underwhelmed. It also suffers from the same ailment that Vesper suffers from: not enough "world-building", so it's disappointing as a sci-fi film.

      Katie Parker and Rahul Kohli both give solid performances that are the only aspects that hold the film together in terms of entertaining the audience. They manage to rise above the weak screenplay and make the most out of their roles. Any modicum of poignancy comes from their performances, not from the screenplay. The cinematography isn't exceptional enough to add visual style, and the editing is occasionally clunky. At a running time of 1 hour and 46 minutes, Next Exit is tonally uneven, shallow and undercooked while biting off more than it could chew.

Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Magnet Releasing.
Opens at Quad Cinema.


Directed by Lorcan Finnegan

      Christine (Eva Green), a successful fashion designer, lives a comfortable life in Dublin with her husband, Felix (Mark Strong), and daughter, Roberta (Billie Gadsdon). One day, at a fashion show, a sick-looking dog carrying many ticks shakes its fur. A tick lands on Christine and bites her. She develops a mysterious illness from the bite. Eight months later, she's still sick. Diana (Chai Fonacie), a nanny, travels from the Philippines to visit her out-of-the-blue while claiming that she can heal her.

      The screenplay by Garret Shanley begins promisingly as it blurs the line between reality and fantasy after Christine gets bitten by the tick. Did she imagine the dog? Is the mysterious illness causing her some kind of hallucinations? The audience will have many questions early-on including whether or not Diana is someone who can be trusted.  Unfortunately, this is yet another sci-fi movie that cares more about shocking the audience than about developing any of its characters or their relationships. Nope suffers from the same system issue. Both Nope and Nocebo aren't really about the horror, but about the big ideas--political, social, economic---that can be found beneath the surface. Neither of them go beyond scratching the surface, so they feel undercooked. Even when it comes to suspense, scares and thrillers, Nocebo comes up short. "Who's the villain? Who's the hero?" are questions you might ponder at first, but eventually that leads to "Who cares?" The suspense wanes as the film offers too few surprises. The twists can be easily predicted as the plot becomes increasingly convoluted and overwrought while throwing nuanced and subtlety out of the window. There's not a single character on screen to connect with on an emotional level because none of them manages to feel like fully-fleshed human beings. Around the one hour mark, Nocebo runs out of steam and turns into a pedestrian, meandering psychological horror film that just seems to be going through the motions.

      On a purely aesthetic level, Nocebo is a triumph. The stylish cinematography, lighting, use of color and editing combine to create a creepy, dreamlike and somewhat trippy experience for the audience. Some of the images are pretty scary on a palpable level. If only as much imagination were given to the screenplay. Eva Green is well-cast and gives a moving performance that breathes a little life into her role. The underrated Mark Strong is fine as well, but he's wasted in an underwritten role. Also, director Lorcan Finnegan keeps the film under 2 hours which is a blessing these days when too many movies overstay their welcome and become exhausting (I'm looking at you, Terrifier 2!). She Will is a better example of a horror film with style, substance and a wonderful lead performance. At a running time of 1 hour and 36 minutes, Nocebo is atmospheric and creepy, but emotionally hollow, undercooked and low on scares.

Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by RLJE Films.
Opens at Village East by Angelika.

One Piece Film: Red

Directed by Gorō Taniguchi

      Uta (voice of Kaori Nazuka) performs live at a concert in front of many people including members of Straw Hats and their leader, Luffy (voice of Mayumi Tanaka). It turns out that Uta is the daughter of Shanks, the leader of the Red Hair Pirates and she has a hidden motive.

      Co-screenwriters Eiichiro Oda and Tsutomu Kuroiwa do a terrific job of keeping the audience engaged with a plot that becomes more and more interesting and complex as it progresses. It's not a simple "good vs. evil" tale. Beneath the surface, it has a warm, beating heart while leaving you with some food for thoughts. There are indeed action scenes, but there's also comedy, wit, compelling characters and, as an added bonus, musical numbers with meaningful lyrics. You don't have to have seen the previous One Piece films in the series to enjoy this one---it stands on its own, which is a rare feat. In other words, the screenwriters adequately incorporate just enough exposition so that audiences won't be confused about who's who and what's going on. There are more twists to be found in the plot described above, but they won't be spoiled here so that the beats will land when it's time for you to be surprised. One Piece Film: Red is filled with surprises, both big and small. It's a huge burst of energy that's concurrently invigorating and refreshing. The story, characters, action and music combine to create a truly magical and crowd-pleasing journey.

      The animation is filled with bright colors and images that will dazzle your eyes while the Uta's music will enchant you. The blend of 2D and 3D animation works well and looks quite impressive. The pace moves at just the right speed so as not to exhaust the audience. Some of the best sequences are the musical scenes from Uta's live concert. Those moments are transcendent beyond words, so it's best to see this film on the big screen. At a running time of 1 hour and 55 minutes, One Piece Film: Red is an exhilarating, delightful and crowd-pleasing spectacle. It would make for an interesting double feature with Inu-Oh. Please be sure to stay through the end credits for a post-credit scene.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Crunchyroll.
Opens nationwide.

On the Line

Directed by Romuald Boulanger

      Elvis Cooney (Mel Gibson), an overnight radio host, receives a live call from a mysterious man who claims to have kidnapped his family and that he's holding them hostage. The caller also threatens to blow up the building. Mary (Alia Seror-O’Neill), Elvis' co-host, and Dylan (William Moseley), are at the station as well. Elvis doesn't get along with Justin (Kevin Dillon), a radio host who has an earlier radio program. He has to race against the clock to find the identity of the mystery caller before it's too late.

      The screenplay by writer/director Romuald Boulanger suffers from a plot that becomes increasingly preposterous as the caller continues to torment Elvis and even kills a security guard. What does the caller really want? It's not clear. He seems to know enough about Elvis to imply that he's been stalking him or perhaps he's someone he knows. Either way, the "villain" isn't given much of a personality or backstory. The reason for that will make sense later on when the film suddenly pulls a similar twist that David Fincher pulls in The Game. Fincher pulls it off much more effectively with far more thrills, suspense and psychological horror. There are many terrible scenes here, but one of the worst ones is on a rooftop where the caller orders Elvis to jump or else he'll kill his wife. Until that point, the audience has never even met Elvis' wife, so the beats don't land in that scene. It's also beyond obvious that Elvis won't actually jump. Once the "big twist" is revealed, there's yet another twist which Elvis seems to take very lightly---you'd think he'd express at least a little anger over everything and that it would affect his relationship with his wife--and make him think twice about coming back to work with such immature people. You'll feeling hanging-up from On the Line long before someone says the cringe-inducing line, "Elvis has left the building." That's not a funny joke nor is it witty.

      Mel Gibson's charisma is the only thing that keeps On the Line afloat. He seems to be enjoying his role, but it's hard not to think about much more suspenseful and smart Mel Gibson thrillers like Ransom. He's really not given enough material here, so he barely rises above it. The other actors don't get much of a chance to shine; their characters are just plot devices. At a running time of 1 hour and 44 minutes, On the Line is an asinine, preposterous and silly thriller with a lazy twist that's worse than M. Night Shyamalan lame twists. This is just as disappointing as Hot Seat which also stars Mel Gibson.

Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Saban Films.
Opens at Cinema Village.

Something in the Dirt

Directed by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead

      John (Aaron Moorhead) lives in a Los Angeles apartment and works as a mathematician. When Levi (Justin Benson), his new neighbor, moves into the apartment building, John is eager to enter the apartment to investigate supernatural activity involving an ashtray made out of crystal that can levitate. John and Levi set out to make a documentary about their paranormal investigation while becoming friends in the process.

      Something in the Dirt is among the 4 mediocre to lame sci-fi movies opening this week, and it's no better or worse than No Exit. Why these two movies play in a double feature? Both films are buddy comedies that try to be entertaining, moving and provocative at the same time, but don't quite succeed. The screenplay by Justin Benson has a plot that's deceptively simple at first and becomes increasingly complex while revealing more and more about John and Levi. Benson does a fine job of providing just enough information to the audience about John and Levi without disclosing too much. Both of them have secrets from their past that they hide from each other, so it's great that the audience only discovers those secrets when John and Levi discover them. Even though the plot is steeped in sci-fi, it's also about the friendship between the two men as they figure out what's going on. The audience knows as much as they do, if not less. Unfortunately, the sci-fi mystery becomes less and less intriguing. It's more engaging to observe how the dynamics of the friendship between John and Levi evolve. There are some bizarre, head-scratching moments, some amusing ones, but nothing that generates any sense of fun, excitement or suspense. Safety Not Guaranteed is a better example of a low budget sci-fi movie that's funny, clever and witty. Even Paranormal Activity is far more scary and gripping. Then, of course, there's the cult classic Under the Silver Lake which goes bonkers more often than not. Perhaps Something in the Dirt could've been more entertaining if it were more bold and bonkers.

      The performances are decent and natural while the use of special effects doesn't overwhelm the film. This isn't the kind of movie that relies heavily on visual effects to tell its story, although the levitation sequences are quite impressive for a low budget film. Kudos to writer/director Justin Benson and co-director Aaron Moorhead for not making this a "found footage" movie or for using shaky-cam to create tension. Unfortunately, the film overstays its welcome. If it were a nice, lean 90 minutes, it would've been less of a chore to sit through. At a running time of 1 hour and 56 minutes, Something in the Dirty is mildly engaging, but often dull and lacking intrigue, suspense and excitement. 

Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by XYZ Films.
Opens at AMC Empire, Alamo Drafthouse and Regal Union Square.


Directed by Alejandro Loayza Grisi

      Virginio (José Calcina) and Sisa (Luisa Quispe), an elderly married couple, lead a peaceful life in a shack in the middle of the Bolivian highlands. Sisa spends her time bringing water from their well, but it has gone dry, so she walks a farther distance to a lake for water. Virgino spends the day herding his llamas. Their grandson, Clever (Santos Choque), arrives from the city of La Paz to check on them and insists on bringing Virginio to the city hospital because of his chronic cough. Virginio refuses to leave, though.

      Some movies are like a slice-of-cake, some are like a slice-of-life, as Hitchcock once wisely observed. Utama is very much a slice-of-life with little to no cake. It's one of those movies where an audience member can easily complain, "Nothing is happening!", and they'd be mostly right, but, to be fair, there's no such thing as nothing. The screenplay by writer/director Alejandro Loayza Grisi is much more than the sum of its parts. On the surface, it sounds like a premise that would make for a great 30-minute short at most, not a feature-length film. That depends on what you define as "cinematic". There's no action, loud fights or car crashes here. Nor are there any villains. The characters are simply human beings going about their daily lives during a time of adversity. Grisi opts for keeping everything understated rather than overstated. He also keeps exposition to a minimum while leaving you wondering more about the Virginio and Sisa. How long have they been married? Are they lonely? Are they happy together? They've clearly been together for a long time. Virginio looks forlorn more often than not as though something other than his persistent cough is ailing him, but it's not quite clear what. Is he thinking about death/mortality? Most likely, but that's up for the audience to interpret on their own. Grisi trusts your intelligence, emotions and imagination. For instance, what is life like for Clever in La Paz? That's left up to the audience to imagine. Utama is merely a brief snapshot of a Virginio and Sisa's life in the Bolivian highlands as they're faced with the option of moving. It doesn't judge Virginio's choice to stay put even though you might choose otherwise. What Clever decides to do instead won't be spoiled here, but, again, it keeps the film as a "slice-of-life" rather than a "slice-of-cake."

      There's no denying that writer/director Alejandro Loayza Grisi trusts the audience's patience. He moves the film at a slow, occasionally very, very slow pace, with the images of the sky, land, sun and llamas often repeating. He captures both the majesty and mundanity of life in the Bolivian highlands. The scenes feel slow and mundane because that's what the experience is like for Virginio and Sisa there. Time moves slowly. They're used to it. If you don't live in the countryside, you're probably not used to it at all. The question that remains is, "How patient are you?" Patience is often rewarding. Although the rewards here aren't on the surface, they're found beneath the surface within the visual poetry of nature. Some of the scenes are just as poetic as the nature scenes in Terrence Malick's films are. Poetry, after all, is a form of protest or against something. What is Utama a protest for or against? Again, that's up to the audience to interpret on their own. It could be a protest for life or to embrace death as a part of life. Or perhaps it's a protest for tranquility away from all of the hustle-and-bustle of city life. The performances are just as natural and organic as the film itself. At a running time of 1 hour and 27 minutes, Utama is a tender, quietly moving and poetic slice-of-life.

Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Kino Lorber.
Opens at Film Forum.

Weird: The Al Yankovic Story

Directed by Eric Appel

      Al Yankovic (Daniel Radcliffe) rises to fame as he becomes the popular musician known as Weird Al.

      Despite its title, Weird: The Al Yankovic Story is not a conventional biopic in any sense. Writer/director Eric Appel and co-writer Al Yankovic have created a parody of a parody, essentially. That's the equivalent of someone making a parody of Christopher Guest's parodies. It's no easy task. Appel and Yankovic set the darkly comedic tone right away with a scene in a hospital that will make more sense later on. Then it flashes back to Al's childhood where he gets bullied by classmates and also by his domineering father, Nick (Toby Huss). His mother, Mary (Julianne Nicholson), is his father's enabler. They don't believe in his passion for becoming a musician, but that doesn't stop him from pursuing his dreams alone. His first attempt to get a record deal for his parody songs fails. He still doesn't give up. Everything changes when he meets Madonna (Evan Rachel Wood) who seduces him and wants to work with him. There's more that happens in the plot, but none of it will be spoiled here. The screenplay is witty and hysterically funny at times with plenty of tongue-in-cheek humor, sight gags and dark comedy. It knows when to take itself seriously and when not to. Fortunately, it's often just a wild experience that while remaining unafraid to take risks and to push the envelope a little--not too much, though. There's something to laugh at in nearly every scene which can't be said for most comedies these days.

      Daniel Radcliffe gives one of the most free-spirited and transformative performances of his career. It's up there with his Swiss Army Man performance. You'll forget that he's the actor who played Harry Potter. He truly sinks his teeth into the role and clearly has a lot of fun with it. The same can be said about Evan Rachel Wood as Madonna---she has her looks and mannerisms down pat. There are also some very funny cameos, i.e. during a pool scene. Blink and you'll miss Patton Oswald during the first 30 minutes. Too many comedies these days run out of steam or become anarchic and tedious bores, but that doesn't happen here because there's just so much fun to be had from start to finish. There's something for everyone: action, comedy, sex, drama, suspense and, of course, Weird Al's music. At a running time of 1 hour and 48 minutes, Weird: The Al Yankovic Story is enormously entertaining, outrageously funny, and a crowd-pleasing delight. It's destined to become a cult classic like Popstar: Never Stop Stopping. See it with the largest crowd possible. It's a huge shame that it won't be playing in theaters. 

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Roku.
Opens on Roku.

You Resemble Me

Directed by Dina Amer

      9-year-old Hasna (Lorenza Grimaudo) and her 6-year-old sister, Mariam (Illona Grimaudo), live with their abusive mother, Amina (Sana Sri) in Paris. One day, they run away together before getting caught and sent to child protective services. They get separated into different foster families. Years later in 2015, Hasna (now played by Dina Amer), who's been living with an upper class French family, runs away again and goes on a downward spiral with sex and drugs before her cousin brainwashes her to become an Islamic extremist.

      The screenplay by writer/director Dina Amer and co-writer Omar Mullick is based on a the true story of Hasna Ait Boulahcen. The less you know about the true story, the better because of the surprising twists and turns that it takes into dark territory. Even if you're aware of who Hasna Ait Boulahcen is, You Resemble Me still works as an engrossing and provocative character study. It begins like a Ken Loach film by showing Hasna and Mariam's toxic environment at home with their mother home and how much they rely on each other emotionally. They're more than just sisters; they're like best friends. To watch them getting separated feels heartbreaking. The filmmakers don't shy away from showing raw, emotional grit. They don't sugarcoat Hasna Ait Boulahcen's story, although there's one scene of sexual abuse that remains off-screen and implied before a quick cut to the next scene. By leaving that to the audience's imagination, it's even more powerful than if it were to actually show the sexual abuse.

      To be fair, the flash forward from Hasna's childhood to her young adult years feels a little abrupt, and it omits many important moments in Hasna's teenage years in between, but that's forgivable because You Resemble Me isn't interested in showing Hasna's life in its entirety--unflinchingly. By cutting right to the chase during her downward spiral, it avoids any padding or redundancy. It also compels the audience to wonder a lot about what went on in Hasna's life before 2015, but you'll gradually be able to connect the dots, especially when you meet her religious French foster family. The film doesn't spend much time exploring their relationship with Hasna; it just shows the essentials before Hasna leaves them. The last thirty minutes or so, which won't be spoiled here, are powerful, gripping and haunting.

      Dina Amer gives a raw and convincingly moving performance as Hasna. She, along with the screenplay, helps the audience to see Hasna as a human being despite what bad choices Hasna makes later in the film. When Hasna gets angry in the third act, you can feel her rage and frustration. She appears confident on the outside, but inside she's vulnerable and an emotional trainwreck. To peer into Hasna's heart, mind and soul isn't fun or enjoyable nor should it be. Bravo to the filmmakers for not judging her and, instead, letting the audience get to know her and care about her. That makes the final few minutes especially heartbreaking, but not in a way that's heavy-handed. At a lean running time of just 91 minutes, You Resemble Me is spellbinding, genuinely poignant and provocative.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Opens at Angelika Film Center.